Gardening section:Layout 1
Putting the garden to bed
AS the last of the autumnal leaves fall and hedgehogs are looking for somewhere to hibernate, it is time to tidy up the garden in preparation for the winter months ahead. Fallen leaves on grass are most easily collected with a rotary mower which will With MARY conveniently chop them into smaller PAYNE MBE pieces, which makes composting much quicker, especially as the addition of grass clippings helps the process perfectly. I like to keep leaves in a separate heap and give them a couple of years to rot down into what we call “leaf mould”; a dark, friable substance that is perfect as a mulch, or even to mix with potting composts. Beech and oak leaves are the slowest to decay due to high tannin content which shows in their brown autumnal tints. If you are quick it is not too late to scarify your lawn and follow on with an autumn feed. Rake vigorously with a spring tined rake to remove “thatch” (dead grass debris), or better still get someone else to do it for you! An autumn feed contains a higher proportion of potassium than nitrogen and helps the lawn to toughen up for the winter ahead. Too much nitrogen now would encourage soft growth vulnerable to a variety of fungal diseases. Herbaceous plants, that have no value in their seed heads, can be cut to the ground. Others with more decorative seed pods can be left for both you and the birds to enjoy. The cut stems can be put in the compost heap, but will rot down faster if shredded first. The resultant shreddings can also be used as a mulch to protect slightly tender perennials such as agapanthus. Michaelmas daisies can be lifted and divided in the autumn or spring, and benefit from such treatment every couple of years. Sadly, the taxonomists have “got at” Aster naming, and our well-loved Michaelmas daisies are no longer Aster, they have become Symphiotrichum. They could at least have found something pronounceable! Ornamental grasses display some of their most valuable assets in the winter months. The flower stems of Miscanthus will remain all winter, while the foliage changes to buff shades, contrasting well with seed heads and the coloured stems of dogwoods. In the spring, deciduous grasses can be cut to the ground, while evergreen grasses can be raked through to remove the brown leaves. The popular Giant Oat Grass (Stipa gigantea) can be raked through, or more drastically, cut hard back well before the new flower stems emerge. Pruning of most woody plants is best left until the spring, except for very tall plants that flower late on current seasons wood, such as lavateras, buddlejas and tall roses like ‘Queen Elizabeth’. The top one third of these can be cut off to reduce the chance of damage by wind rock in the winter. Now is a good time to take hardwood cuttings of many deciduous shrubs. No sophisticated environment is required, just a patch of earth. Take long pieces of this year’s growth and discard the immature tip. Starting from the bottom of the shoot cut just below a bud, and then above a bud 150 – 300mm (6–12inches) further up. The ideal diameter should be not less than that of a pencil. PAGE 66 • MENDIP TIMES • NOVEMBER 2017
Aster 'Little Carlow'
Several cuttings can be made from one long shoot. Make a slit in the ground with a spade and inset the cuttings so only the top one third is showing. Firm them in lightly and label. They can stay there until next autumn when they can be lifted and transplanted – plants for free! Buddleja, Forsythia, roses, Philadelphus, Abelia, Ribes, dogwoods, willow as well as black, red and white currants and gooseberries can all be done in this way. It is not too late to sow a green manure on vacant vegetable plots. This will help protect the soil structure as well as adding valuable organic matter when dug in in the spring. Grazing rye (Secale cereal) would be suitable, but don’t delay sowing. Broad beans sown in November will give an earlier crop than spring sown ones, but it is important to use a hardy variety such as Aquadulce Claudia. Well-rotted compost can be spread on the surface of raised beds and let the worms do the job of “digging” it in for you. There is no need to dig if you have not compacted the soil by trampling on it. Plants in pots and containers, especially evergreens, are vulnerable during the winter months as severe frost can freeze the compost making water uptake impossible so move these to a sheltered place or protect the pots with bubble wrap. It is worth spraying box hedges with a protective spray against box blight. The fungicide Fungus Fighter is remarkably effective against this problematic and devastating disease. Sweet pea enthusiasts will be sowing their seeds for an early crop next year, but watch out for mice who are very partial to a few seeds for supper. If you have not already done it, the greenhouse glass should be cleaned, and the inside given a good clear-out ready for overwintering all those tender plants and cuttings. Lining with bubble wrap will help insulate and reduce heating bills. Alternatively, horticultural fleece can be laid over the plants during periods of freezing weather and is easy to remove on bright sunny days. Heater thermostats should be checked for accurate functioning. Keep watering to a minimum during the winter months. Plants can stand the cold better if they are drier at the roots than if they are wet and if you do need to water do it in the morning so the foliage has a chance to dry. Finally, declare war on autumn germinating weed seeds. The ubiquitous goose grass or cleavers gets ahead by germinating in the autumn. They are easily identified by that tell-tale whorl of leaves above the seed leaves.
Celebrating life on the Mendips and surrounding areas